Friday, December 31, 2010

Favorite Reads 2008-2010

Somehow I have read over 150 books in the last three years.  As it may be my last serious attempt to read 50 books a year (which takes a lot more concentration than you might think), here is my highly subjective list of my favorites since 2008:

Stars In My Pocket Like Grains of Sand by Samuel R. Delany

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

The Boy Detective Fails by Joe Meno

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami 

Lunar Park by Brett Easton Ellis

The Keep by Jennifer Egan

The City and The City by China Mieville

The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon

The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo

54 Books in 2010

For three years running I have managed to make my goal of reading 50 books a year; so I guess I have that one knocked down and perhaps it's time to try some new challenge (although I will continue to keep counting on this blog).  I did vow to read a little smarter this year, though I still read a mountain of trash and pulp.  But I read some really good books, and here are my favorites:

1.  The Boy Detective Fails by Joe Meno

2.  The Keep by Jennifer Egan

3.  The City and The City by China Mieville

4.  Wife of the Gods by Kwei Quartey

5.  The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

6.  Rule of the Bone by Russell Banks

7.  Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby

8.  Clans of the Alphane Moon by Philip K. Dick

9.  Amnesia Moon by Jonathan Lethem

10.  The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King

As always, happy reading!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

#54: Trap for Buchanan by Jonas Ward

Buchanan, a drifter heading towards San Francisco, ends up helping an old friend protect his mine from crooks, owlhoots, Mexican bandits, Indians, and other challengers in Jonas Ward's Trap for Buchanan.

This was another book featuring an author I had never heard of that I nabbed in a big handful from a flea market and have worked through sporadically.  Jonas Ward was a pseudonym used by a handful of writers in the 60s and 70s in westerns featuring the honorable cowpoke.  There was also a good movie starring Randolph Scott as the lantern-jawed Buchanan.  Trap for Buchanan was apparently written by William R. Cox, who seemed to have penned the lion's share of the series.

It is a nicely sturdy western with a hero who doesn't like fighting but, naturally, can only be pushed so far before fighting back.  Although not outstanding, it is certainly more serviceable than many Westerns and I will look for more by the phantom Jonas Ward.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

#53: The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King

An evil wizard called Flagg subverts the noble Prince Peter and installs a puppet in his place, setting sinister plans in motion in Stephen King's fantasy novel The Eyes of the Dragon.

This unusual departure for horror master King was one I somehow missed when it came out in the 80s.  I am glad I found it as an audio book read by Bronson Pinchot, quickly becoming one of my favorite audio book readers.  It is a very credible fantasy, probably most reminiscent of William Goldman's The Princess Bride, but enjoyable in its own right.  Both share a bright, funny narration that carries the story along.

For fans of King's larger body of work, there are definitely threads and themes that appear or re-appear in other novels, probably most notably The Stand and The Dark Tower series.

I checked this out from the Morrison-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana, and enjoyed it thoroughly.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

#52: The Reversal by Michael Connelly

DNA evidence seems to spring a child-killer from prison after many years, but defense attorney Mickey Haller jumps over to the prosecution to ensure that doesn't come to pass in Michael Connelly's The Reversal.

Connelly is perhaps best known for his novels featuring L.A. police detective Harry Bosch, in my mind one of the milestone mystery series of the late 20th Century.  He has sometimes branched out to feature other characters in Bosch's world, and this is I think the third featuring Haller.  At the end of the last novel Haller and Bosch were revealed to have a family relationship that ties the two characters closer together.

Connelly is equally adept at writing straight-up courtroom drama, and this one moves at a quick pace with solid plotting.  Fans of Connelly will be satisfied to see appearances from Harry Bosch, FBI profiler Rachel Walling, and other characters seen previously.

I checked this one out from the Farmland Public Library in Farmland, Indiana and would have consumed it in a single day if I had a day free to do so.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

#51: Time to Prey by Frank Kane

New York P.I. Johnny Liddell meets a damsel in distress at a seedy bar; later she turns up dead, and when Liddell finds out she was actually an undercover Treasury agent, he plots vengeance in Frank Kane's Time to Prey.

Liddell is your typical wiseacre shamus with a loving secretary and a world-weary cop pal with the usual yeggs set in opposition.  What surprised me was how doggedly Liddell set about framing various bad guys without the benefit of hard evidence or due process, setting in motion a number of murders and at least one suicide, with hardly a flicker of conscience.

Frank Kane and his detective creation had a long run in their day (this entry is from the early 60s), but I had never heard of either of them until I found this paperback at a flea market for fifty cents and got interested in its pulp cover.  Frank Kane's writing was interesting enough to keep an eye out for more.

Friday, November 12, 2010

#50: Rule of the Bone by Russell Banks

Bone is a teen runaway from an abusive home, a low-level drug dealer, an aspiring gang member, a small-time criminal and wannabe Rastafarian in Russell Banks' Catcher in the Rye for the contemporary set, Rule of the Bone.

Despite the harrowing description, Banks' Bone comes to life through an often humorous first-person narrative and energetic prose.  Although I didn't always think the tone of Bone's voice was right for a teenage boy, and the narrrative goes up and down some steep inclines at times, I really enjoyed the book and was glad that I finished my 50 Books In 2010 Challenge on such a strong note.

Russell Banks is a popular author among a lot of people I know but this is the first time I have dipped into one of this works.  I will definitely be on the prowl for more in 2011.

I picked this up at a student club book sale at Indiana University East at goodbye prices for my wife but ended up reading it rather quickly myself first.  I recommended it to her and will to others.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

#49: Blood Oath by Christopher Farnsworth

Since the Civil War, the President of the United States has had a vampire to do his bidding, linked to the office by a voodoo curse; in the modern era, the president's vampire takes on the immortal Doctor Frankenstein in Christopher Farnsworth's Blood Oath.

Rollicking, cinematic-style adventure is an enjoyable outing in what appears to be the first in a series from Farnsworth.  Undemanding as both a horror novel and a thriller but full of knowing elements for fans of both.

I picked this audio book up on a whim and ended up liking it.  I believe it was helped significantly by a very good reading by, of all people, Bronson Pinchot.

I checked this out from the Morrison-Reeves Library and consumed it quickly.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

#48: Fake I.D. by Jason Starr

A bouncer with a minor acting career, a middling gambling addiction, and a major sociopathic streak will do anything to buy a racehorse in Jason Starr's contemporary noir Fake I.D.

Fake I.D. is part of the highly admirable Hard Case Crime line, a mix of lost pulp novels alongside newer works in the same vein.  Jason Starr's work is a credible addition, sort of a Jim Thompson lite.  Like many Thompson protagonists, Starr's flawed narrator continues to unravel more and more, despite the banal narration, to a chilling finale.

I had never read Jason Starr but will seek out more of his work.  I thought this book was comparable to two of my favorite old-school flavored modern noirs, Scott Smith's A Simple Plan and Robert Ward's Four Kinds of Rain; good company indeed.
Had I had a single day to read this, undoubtedly I would have read it straight through. 

I nabbed this off of and read it quickly.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

#47: The Killers by Peter McCurtin

Drifter Carmody, who drifts just this side of the law, ends up being talked into helping out his cousin as sheriff of a small town in the Old West; but he takes up law enforcement at an untimely moment, as a bandit gang and a murderous backwoods family have the town in its crosshairs.

Carmody was a Western series character of Peter McCurtin, a very busy pulp scribe of the 60s-80s and beyond who many speculated was actually a pseudonymous legion of writers.  Apparently he was a real person after all, and if this outing is any indication he was also a talented writer.

McCurtin's Carmody is a bit more tongue in cheek than the average Western hero, and McCurtin also writes in the first person, less common in Westerns than, for instance, the private eye genre.  Overall the various elements made The Killers a slight cut above.

I got a mixed batch of 50-cent paperbacks at a flea market which included a lot of authors I had not heard of before, including McCurtin, and I'm always eager to find new writers and stories.  I also found another McCurtin Western series character, Sundance, which I am sure I will dig into before long.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

#46: The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

A teen girl is torn between two brothers, even as zombies strain at the fences to tear them apart, in Carrie Ryan's Young Adult horror novel The Forest of Hands and Teeth.

I picked this up as a recommendation after enjoying Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games novels.  Ryan's story also features a post-apocalyptic setting, this time a few generations after a zombie uprising, where the residents of a small town deep in the forest now believe they are the last living humans on Earth.  Their village is surrounded by a lot of chain link fence that has to be constantly maintained to keep the dead at bay.

A young girl remembers her mother talking about the ocean, and yearns to set out on what seems to be a doomed quest.  In the meantime, she deals with the various heatings and coolings between herself and the brothers as well as herself and various family members.

A curious mix of teen romance and gruesome horror, sort of a version of Lois Lowry's The Giver as directed by George Romero.  It's hard to recommend for those who like a few chills with their romance, as there are some pretty grisly sequences (including a pregnant zombie and a baby zombie, of all unpalatable things), but it's even harder to recommend it to gorehounds as the teen pines away even as civilization gets torn down around her.

An interesting read, and not without its merits for the careful reader. 

I picked this up with my Books A Million gift card I got for my birthday and read it at a steady pace.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

#45: Wife of the Gods by Kwei Quartey

Ghana detective Darko Dawson from the Accra city police force heads for the countryside to look into the strange death of a medical worker in Kwei Quartey's debut Wife of the Gods.

Quartey's first novel has been compared to Alexander McCall Smith's No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, but I think they are worlds apart.  Quartey writes straight-up crime drama, putting Dawson on the street with nothing but a cricket bat, a bag of weed, and some anger management issues between him and the criminal element.

The setting of Ghana sets the mystery apart from other crime novels as well, as Dawson contends with witchcraft and tribal beliefs as he tries to solve the killing using contemporary methods.  All the while he also struggles with buried family secrets that begin to surface as parallels between the recent murder and the long-ago disappearance of Dawson's mother surfaces.

I picked up this audiobook from Morrison-Reeves Public Library without having heard of the book or the author and enjoyed it tremendously.  I will be on the lookout for Kwei Quartey's second novel.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

#44: Fargo by John Benteen

Fargo is a mercenary for hire who signs up for a seeming suicide mission bringing a load of silver out of revolution-torn Mexico in Fargo, the first in a series by prolific, pseudonymous scribe John Benteen.

Not long ago I read The Trail Ends in Hell by Benteen, aka Ben Haas, a sturdy little Western that interested me in finding more of his writing.  However, despite Fargo's trappings I would say it was more Men's Adventure than Western, not only in its time period (early 20th century) and focus on action, but also in its casual handling of women and fetish-like attachment to weapons.

Benteen again writes a solid story, and I must not have been the only one that thought so as the Fargo series went on for some time throughout the 60s and 70s.  I was able to get a handful at a flea market and I am sure I will jump on another one before long.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

#43: The Super Barbarians by John Brunner

In the far-flung future, Earthmen have been subjugated by a technically advanced, but culturally backward, alien race.  Through playing on the aliens' superstitions--and their unexpected coffee addictions--humans begin to get the upper hand again in John Brunner's light, tight space opera The Super Barbarians.

Brunner was a hugely prolific and popular sci-fi author in the 60s and 70s, but I find his writing kind of mixed and have picked up and put down a lot of his books over the years.  I stuck with this one because it didn't take itself too seriously and had a brisk, tidy plot.

This one caught my fancy after seeing it on a flea market goodbye shelf and I read it at a good pace.  I continue to keep a lookout for John Brunner's work.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

#42: Known to Evil by Walter Mosley

New York private eye Leonid McGill is asked by a well-connected politico to look into the whereabouts of a young beauty, unleashing a murderous chain of events in Walter Mosley's Known to Evil.

This is the second McGill mystery in a new series Mosley began recently.  Mosley's Easy Rawlins books, which takes a sort-of detective through life in L.A. from post World War II to post Watts riots and beyond, is one of my favorite contemporary mystery series and I believe will be remembered as one of the greats of the late 20th century.  I think Mosley is trying to do the same for New York, in a contemporary setting, with milder results.

McGill is a former very crooked P.I. who is somewhat bent back straight, with all the complications that ensue from that situation.  His home life, with an unfaithful wife and three kids with uncertain paternity, also weighs on his mind.  These main themes, and several other subplots, make for an overly dense narrative with a somewhat unsatisfying conclusion.

But a moderately successful Mosley novel is always above the average read, so I would recommend it for fans.

I listened to a very good audio book version of this, read by Mirron Willis, on loan from the Morrison-Reeves Library in Richmond, Indiana.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

#41: Red Fury by George G. Gilman

Gun-for-hire Edge, a drifter and loner with his own fractured moral code, finds himself in the middle of a bloody feud  between a small town and some only slightly settled Indians in George G. Gilman's Red Fury.

I have been reading a lot of Gold Medal paperbacks from the 60s and 70s and frequently saw Gilman's Edge series, billed as "the most violent Westerns in print," advertised in the back.  I found a handful at a flea market and grabbed this one at random.  This volume was from deep in the series and one can only surmise features an older, more reflective Edge, as it was not so much violent as rather unpleasant.  There are lots of murders, rapes, some incest and torture, and a notable scene where Edge holds a straight razor to a pregnant woman's stomach to escape.

A little googling shows that Gilman has a legion of fans, but I found his work a curiosity; the result of a British writer penning stories of the American West after apparently watching a lot of Italian Western films.  On the covers Edge looks like Charles Bronson, and on the inside pages has the mean streak of Lee Van Cleef and the dry wit of Clint Eastwood.  In fact each chapter strains to end, rather painfully at times, on some sort of pun or quip, as odd a conceit as I've seen.

I feel I should give Edge another try but won't be rushing back into my swap meet stash anytime soon.

Monday, August 16, 2010

#40: The Keep by Jennifer Egan

Genuinely creepy-crawly story-within-a-story features a pair of cousins working together (and sometimes against each other) in restoring an eerie, remote Eastern European castle; meanwhile, a prisoner attends a creative writing class while doing time and workshops a story about two cousins restoring an old castle, intriguing his troubled teacher.

Jennifer Egan's The Keep is an enjoyable, offbeat read that I was pleasantly surprised to find.  I had not heard of Jennifer Egan before a friend recommended this one.  I nabbed it off of and read it at a good clip.  Egan writes in an interesting voice and featured plenty of neat twists and turns with a chilling undertone throughout.

Unfortunately I thought the ending unraveled a bit, but I was completely sold on it for nine-tenths of the way through, and immediately went looking for more of Egan's work.  Recommended.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

#39: Amnesia Moon by Jonathan Lethem

In a post-apocalyptic future, a loner called Chaos, whose dreams seem to be able to influence events, takes off for California to see what remains of the world in Jonathan Lethem's Amnesia Moon.

Jonathan Lethem wrote the introduction for the Library of America's worthy collection of Philip K. Dick's writings, and after reading this early work from Lethem it is easy to understand why.  Lethem definitely pays tribute to Dick in this piece, as he did in another early work I read previously, Gun with Occasional Music.  To me, it isn't until Motherless Brooklyn and his masterpiece (in my mind, to date) Fortress of Solitude that Lethem really gains his own voice.

But Amnesia Moon is enjoyable in its own right, and is enjoyable for sci-fi fans and/or Lethem completests.  I nabbed this off of

Saturday, July 17, 2010

#38: The City and The City by China Mieville

A cop in the city-state of Beszel tries to solve the murder of a woman from the neighboring city-state of Ul Quoma, while facing political complications and his own inner demons, in China Mieville's ultra-strange science fiction/noir hybrid The City and The City.

Despite the brief summary, Mieville's work is hard to explain.  Beszel is a fading Eastern European-style city, whereas Ul Quoma is a rising military dictatorship experimenting with democracy; guarding the borders between the two cities is a mysterious policing group called The Breach.  But both cities occupy the same geographical space, differentiating philosophically by citizens "unseeing" each other and the other part of the city.

It's as unique a chunk of sci-fi as I have read (and I read a lot of Philip Dick, Ursula LeGuin, and Samuel R. Delany); sort of what might happen if Martin Cruz Smith's Arkady Renko went to visit Delany's Dhalgren

For those willing to be patient, and take a chance on something quite unique, this comes recommended.

I actually took a recommendation on this one myself from my pal Troy, and checked it out from the Morrison-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

#37: Assignment Manchurian Doll by Edward S. Aarons

In the heat of the Cold War, an old enemy of U.S. spy Sam Durell has decided he will only defect across the Iron Curtain to him, sending Durell to Japan and then "Red China" while double- and triple-crossing friends and enemies stalk his every move in Edward S. Aarons' Assignment Manchurian Doll.

Longtime readers of this blog know that I have been rediscovering and enjoying Aarons' espionage novels of the 50s and 60s after snagging a big stack on ebay some time ago.  Most of the books I have read to date take place in the more sober late 50s, with plenty of rain-slick Washington streets, but this entry is square in the middle of the freewheeling 60s.  There is a lot more sex and sadism than the ones I had read prior, with some oversized villains of the flavor Ian Fleming favored at the time. 

For the curious, the "Manchurian Doll" of the title is a sexy Stalinist who loves Durell's enemy and has to team up with Uncle Sam's finest to defeat a greater foe.

Another good entry in the long-running Gold Medal series.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

#36: I Am Not A Serial Killer by Dan Wells

A teen in a quiet town lives above a funeral parlor with his mom, has a dorky best friend, and pines for an unattainable girl; he also tries to quell the murderous impulses within him, finding some solace in stalking a demonic killer that suddenly surfaces in town in Dan Wells' debut I Am Not A Serial Killer.

Wells can't avoid drawing parallels to both the novels and television series Dexter, about a Miami serial killer who focuses on dispatching only those that deserve it.  Jeff Lindsay's series has also taken a turn towards the supernatural, veering off significantly from the television series (a strange plot twist the TV series has avoided to its benefit, in my opinion).  Fans of either the series of books or TV episodes will find much to enjoy here. 

I have become a bit lukewarm on the Dexter books and found myself on the same uneasy footing with this novel.  Most curiously, the protagonist is shown to be very unlikable while the demon in human guise is portrayed fairly sympathetically.  I also think the narrator of the audiobook version that I listened to was ill-suited to the material, which may have hampered my enjoyment.

That being said, I understand that this is the beginning of a trilogy, and am interested enough to know what happens next.

I listened to this via an audiobook checked out from Morrison-Reeves Library in Richmond, Indiana.

#35: The Trail Ends In Hell by John Benteen

A trail boss takes his cattle to a town to sell them off, only to find the town overrun by crooks and shysters; he then takes it upon himself to clean up the place, knowing it is the only way he is going to be able to get a good price on his herd.  The Trail Ends in Hell is a burly western by John Benteen, the psuedonym for busy pulp writer Ben Haas.

I like to read an old western from time to time to change things up and found that I really enjoyed this one. It is from that late 60s-early 70s era when westerns began to drop the straight-laced, singing cowboy-style persona and reflect more the violent "spaghetti western" stylings of the time. 

Benteen presents a particularly hard-nosed story here, though our stubborn trail boss protagonist does, in old-time western fashion, manage to tame down both the town and a hot-blooded rancher's daughter at the same time.

I enjoyed this read quite a bit and devoured it quickly.  I bought this paperback for a dollar at a flea market and will definitely go on the prowl for more John Benteen/Ben Haas.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

#34: Tell-All by Chuck Palahniuk

A fading star in moviedom's Silver Age is tended to by her faithful assistant, who has to go to extremes to keep the wolves from her door in Chuck Palahniuk's Hollywood send-up Tell-All.

Although I intentionally avoided Palahniuk for a number of years after hearing others talk about his rather disturbing novels (Fight Club notable among them), I finally gave him a go and actually found him to be a very accomplished, interesting writer--though pretty much all of his novels I have read to date have to be approached with caution and an open mind.

That being said, I was probably more shocked by this book than any of the others of his I have read.  It is sort of a breezy, outlandishly plotted satire with little of the dark material of his typical work.  I honestly don't know who Palahniuk wrote this novel for; it surely will not satisfy his fans, and the casual reader who might be interested in the lighter fare would be reluctant to pick it up.  Basically it's a good fit for someone who can stomach Palahniuk's darker turns, but has a deep love for classic cinema (everyone from Thelma Ritter to John Agar to Bonita Granville are name-checked, and Lillian Hellman plays a critical role).  So I think Chuck, me, and some guys I took film classes with at Ball State are its primary audience.

That being said, I did enjoy the novel, which I heard via a good audiobook version read by Hillary Huber.  I checked it out from the Morrison-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

#33: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Arnold Spirit is a Spokane Indian who tries to improve his fortunes by leaving his school on the reservation and going to a white high school a short distance away, but a world apart, in Sherman Alexie's comedic and tragic Young Adult novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

Despite the Young Adult label Alexie remains in full effect here, in all his rage and glory, unflinching in his portrayal of "the rez" but also leavening the proceedings with genuine humor. The novel seems to be at least somewhat autobiographical but even more so rings true as a coming of age story.

Even though the novel is accompanied with some neat cartooning throughout, the storytelling is definitely for more sophisticated readers; but I would recommend this to anyone middle school age on into adulthood.  It stands very well alongside Alexie's other works.

I have been a big fan of Sherman Alexie for a while but did not know about this YA novel.  I picked it up because I have been reading along with a YA fiction class my daughter is taking this summer at college. 

I traded for this on and read it quickly, then donated it to my daughter for the little library she hopes to have in her own classroom one day.  Recommended.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

#32: Dealing Out Death by W.T. Ballard

Bill Lennox is a "troubleshooter" for a big movie studio back in Hollywood's golden era; in his latest case, he tries to help a starlet out of a jam, only to get in deeper himself, in W.T. Ballard's Dealing Out Death

Lennox ends up following the starlet to Vegas and deals with the gumshoe's general supply of smart-aleck mobsters, angry cops, and willing dames.

I was not aware that W.T. Ballard was a prolific mystery and western writer of the pulp era, or that Bill Lennox was one of his more well-known characters, when I spent 99 cents on this one for my beloved Kindle.  But I enjoyed this pretty undemanding read and read it over a day or two.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

#31: Assignment Mara Tirana by Edward S. Aarons

Sam Durrell, deep in the shadowy world of espionage in the cold war '60s, has said goodbye to his longtime girlfriend Diedre; a year later, she is set to marry America's first astronaut, Adam Stepanic, who has the misfortune of veering off course on his return trip from orbit and landing behind Communist lines.  It's up to Durrell to go behind the Iron Curtain and rescue him in Assignment Mara Tirana, an admirable entry in Edward S. Aarons' long-running spy series.

I have been chewing through a big stack of these Sam Durrell novels that I snagged off of ebay some time ago and have yet to find a lemon.  In fact I am willing to say that the series, from what I have read, is the equal to some more well-regarded series of the time period, including Donald Hamilton's Matt Helm and even Ian Fleming's Bond.

This entry is a bit different from the norm as it tells a parallel story, following the astronaut's nerve-wracking attempt to escape from the Eastern Bloc while Durrell closes in on him from the other side.  The Mara Tirana of the title is a fiery woman who ends up grudgingly helping the astronaut while various complications impede Durrell's progress, but all ends up rather neat in the end.

I read this in a single day while staying at a cabin at New Harmonie State Park.  A good entry in the series, and I am eager to dive into another.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

#30: The Boy Detective Fails by Joe Meno

A young boy, adept at solving mysteries, teams up with his sister and a boyhood chum to unravel the town's crimes.  After his sister's suicide, the boy is institutionalized, emerging as an adult to try and solve the greatest mystery of his life in Joe Meno's The Boy Detective Fails.

I heard Joe Meno read from his work during a public reading at the Ropewalk Writer's Workshop in New Harmony Indiana.  I bought this book that night and read it straight through the next day while staying in the state park nearby.  The following day I spend about four hours breaking the numerous codes throughout, including one that can be deciphered with a decoder ring you can cut out of the back of the book.

This was an offbeat read to say the least, reminiscent of book series from my youth like "Encyclopedia Brown" but with a distinctive postmodern edge, verging on the hallucinatory.  I really enjoyed Meno's style as well as picking out the many pop culture references throughout.  The codebreaking added an unusual element I had not seen in other work.

A happy surprise from an author I was unfamiliar with and will seek out going forward.  Recommended.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

#29: Hunt Beyond the Frozen Fire by Gabriel Hunt and Christa Faust

World adventurer Gabriel Hunt heads to the South Pole to find the missing father of a beautiful young woman, only to quickly stumble onto a larger conspiracy involving Nazis, Amazons, and an underground kingdom in Christa Faust's rollicking Hunt Beyond the Frozen Fire.

The Gabriel Hunt series was cooked up by the same people who brought Hard Case Crime into the world, an admirable collection of lost noirs and contemporary novels in the pulp vein.  This new series attempts to recapture what might best be called Men's Adventure novels of yore.  Supposedly Gabriel Hunt "narrates" these tales to a stable of current writers, which makes for the curious byline.

Honestly I have picked up and put down others in the series before latching onto this one from Faust, whose other novels I have enjoyed.  Thankfully Faust keeps tongue firmly in cheek as Hunt's predicaments become increasingly outlandish, culminating with a nude wrestling match and a hair-raising flight in an old Nazi airplane to escape a steaming jungle under the ice cap.  If this description makes the hair on your neck stand up, this series is definitely for you.

I bought this for my beloved Kindle and read it in one fell swoop one day while camping  in New Harmonie State Park.

Friday, June 11, 2010

#28: Love Me and Die by Day Keene

Hollywood P.I. Johnny Slagle is asked to find out what happened when a studio's fading star allegedly hit and killed a young woman while drunk driving.  Faced with a cover-up, Johnny quits the studio job and vows to bring the killer to justice, even as various forces converge against him, in Day Keene's Love Me and Die.

I have been a Day Keene fan since ever since I read Home is the Sailor, and I try to find the pulp writer's work wherever I can.  I felt lucky to nab this from

I learned later I got a better deal than I thought as this book is a bit rare, having been expanded by fellow pulpster Gil Brewer in an uncredited turn.  Although I have not read anything from Brewster, I understand he is another genre writer who could use some rediscovering.

No matter what its origins, Love Me and Die is brisk and tough as Johnny plows through the sordid underbelly of Hollywood (as if there is any other kind) as the corpses stack up around him.  He makes the enemy of studio bosses on down to underworld yeggs, and angers a few dames as well.  A really enjoyable slice of noir with some go-go Hollywood mixed in.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

#27: Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby

In the wake of his classic album "Juliet" a moderately famous American musician disappears into a self-imposed exile, prompting a rabid online fandom; meanwhile, a lonely British woman strikes up an online friendship with him, and the two gradually coax each other back to life in Nick Hornby's Juliet, Naked.

I have been a fan of Hornby's books for a while.  They are usually pretty light and funny, and thus have been easily digested into moviedom (High Fidelity, About A Boy).  He has always been adept at writing about people who have come to some sort of dead end and need to be jolted awake by various turns of events.

Although Juliet, Naked features a lot of Hornby's familiar standbys--stunted adults, busted relationships, wise children, pop culture riffs--I think his storytelling has been deepening over his last few novels.  His observations seem more pointed and his characters more complex.

I always look forward to Nick Hornby's latest and found this one especially rewarding.  Recommended.

I checked this out from the Morrison-Reeves Library in Richmond, Indiana.

Friday, June 4, 2010

#26: Monster by Walter Dean Myers

An inner-city teen is on trial for his role as a lookout in a murderer/robbery in Walter Dean Myers' Young Adult novel Monster.

Myers has been writing mostly urban YA novels since I was a young adult myself, and I had enjoyed my previous exposure to his work.  I picked this up, after a long layoff from his books, as I have been reading along with my college daughter's Young Adult Fiction class.

Monster has a unique format; portions of it are written as the protagonist's diary, and portions are written in screenplay format as the main character develops the skills learned in a school video club while waiting in jail. Most of the story takes place during the teen's trial, with flashes of home and school life. Photography and unusual layouts are of interest.  The novel has a straightforward narrative but no easy solutions; in fact the teen's actual actions and motivations are left open to much speculation, and would definitely be worth talking about to a young person.

A good read that I picked up from

#25: The Strain by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan

A master vampire lands in Manhattan, leading to an undead plague in The Strain, the first novel by horror movie director Guillermo Del Toro alongside veteran thriller writer Chuck Hogan.

The novel opens with an empty plane landing at JFK, mirroring Dracula's memorable boat scene (one of many homages paid to a variety of horror classics).  In the long, leisurely creepy opening chapters  the CDC is dispatched, suspecting terrorism or some sort of viral outbreak.  By the time the scientists fathom what has really happened the vampire rampage is in full swing.

Then the novel ramps up full blast as the scientists end up with a smattering of ragtag helpers, including an aged vampire hunter, a municipal rat catcher, and a gangbanger, pursuing the king vampire and his minions across the Big Apple.

Probably 95 percent of the big cast of characters gets killed or turned before the cliffhanger ending (The Strain is the first of a reported trilogy).  But along the way there are plenty of skin-crawling shocks and scares to satisfy any horror hound.  Del Toro and Hogan come up with their own credible vampire mythology (and no, they aren't sparkly) that adds to the interesting read.

I listened to a really good audio book version read by actor Ron Perlman, on loan from Morrison-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana.

Monday, May 31, 2010

#24: When Zachary Beaver Came To Town by Kimberly Willis Holt

An eventful summer for two pre-teen boys in an uneventful small Texas town begins when Zachary Beaver, billed as the World's Fattest Boy, trundles into town in a trailer as a one-person freak show.  After some initial reluctance on both sides, the boys all become friends as they face various trials and tribulations.

Kimberly Willis Holt's When Zachary Beaver Came To Town is a credible, nicely-done coming of age story, full of interesting characters and a good sense of its time and place (early 70s Texas). I thought the rich backstory added quite a bit of food for thought for young readers, especially the fates of the siblings and parents of various characters, and the inner lives of some of the small town's residents.

I really had no expectations for this novel, picking it up solely because I decided to read along with my college daughter's Young Adult Lit class this summer.  However, I quickly got drawn into the world depicted and enjoyed the novel quite a bit.

I nabbed this off of and read it at a good clip.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

#23: The White Wolverine Contract by Philip Atlee

Joe Gall, The Nullifier, goes after some hippies and other malcontents (secretly backed by Commies, natch) trying to overthrow the Canadian government in Philip Atlee's The White Wolverine Contract.

By pure coincidence I bought three Joe Gall books from the White Rabbit Bookstore in Muncie, Indiana that happened to fall right in sequence.  The previous one I read, The Canadian Bomber Contract, also took place in the Great White North.

The time is the early 70s, and spy Joe Gall's swingin' days are dimming somewhat.  In fact, long passages of this one read more like a travelogue, with a few fistfights and some skirt-chasing mixed in.  However, this throwback story is still enjoyable, and rather curiously was nominated for the prestigious Edgar Award in 1972.  More for fans of the Gold Medal books of this time period, but despite that I'm sure I'll start the next one, The Kiwi Contract, before long.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

#22: Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

On the eve of The Great War, the heir to the Austria-Hungary Empire is on the run after his father is assassinated; meanwhile, a young woman disguised as a boy joins England's air corps and sets off for adventure.  How their paths cross is at the heart of Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan, a Young Adult alternate history novel.

This book more accurately would fit in the subgenre of Steampunk, where technological advances are set in historic times.  In this version, the Germans are the "Clankers," steering an army of walking and flying machines; and the British and their Allies are the Darwinists, making an army of genetically altered "Beasties" to serve the Crown.  Most notable is the Leviathan itself, basically a hydrogen-filled whale piloted like a Zeppelin.

I honestly had no knowledge of the author or his work upon picking this one up, instead selecting it solely on the basis that Alan Cumming was reading the audiobook version.  He did a great reading, but I ended up enjoying the storytelling as well (though not so much the cliffhanger ending).  Not having read a lot of Young Adult or Steampunk, much less the two mixed together, I ended up enjoying this one quite a bit, and would recommend it to fans of either genre.

I checked this out from the Morrison-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana and consumed it at a good pace.

Monday, May 24, 2010

#21: Blue-Eyed Devil by Robert B. Parker

Gunmen Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch, two hard-bitten heroes with their own moral compass, return to Appaloosa to rout out a crooked sheriff in Robert B. Parker's Blue-Eyed Devil, published posthumously.

This is the fourth in this Western series, and features the same elements that made the others successful; interesting characters, no-nonsense plotting, and hyper-laconic dialogue.  I would rate this entry slightly above the previous entry as the series circles around to some of the original characters and locations that made the first novel, Appaloosa, so rewarding.

I was glad to see that Robert B. Parker had one more of these tucked away.  Enjoyable, for fans of the series.

I checked this out from the Morrison-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana and read a lot of it in one fell swoop.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

#20: The Canadian Bomber Contract by Philip Atlee

Nullifier Joe Gall is back, in less exotic climes as he slips over to Canada to stop the bombing of Niagara Falls in Philip Atlee's The Canadian Bomber Contract.

I pick up and read Atlee's work wherever I happen to come across it, so I am not reading these in any particular order.  Somehow, this is the first one I have read set in the 70s. The others I have read have taken place in the 60s and feature a lot of content that would not be PC by today's standards. You kind of know what to expect from Atlee after a while, and this one is no exception as the cover features Joe Gall punching out a hippie while a couple of admiring women look on. 

But Gall seems to have a bit of a hangover from the swingin' 60s and is somewhat melancholy throughout.  He actually only beds about half the women he meets on first sight (although to be fair, one was talking about Women's Lib an awful lot) and at the end makes a surprisingly compassionate speech about accepting draft dodgers back into the fold. 

A more tired and philosophical Gall than I had read before, although the storytelling was only moderately interesting next to a lot of nice descriptives of daily experiences in Canada.  I suspect Atlee had spent a lot of time there at some point, and is more worth reading on those merits.

I found this for one dollar in the White Rabbit used bookstore in Muncie, Indiana.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

#19: Never Die Alone by Donald Goines

King David, arriving in New York after a long stay in California, is murdered on the street; a passerby who tries to help him is entrusted with his diary, which reveals what brought the drug dealer to a bloody end in Donald Goines' Never Die Alone.

I have been trying to find some of Goines' writing for a while, as he is often compared to one of my favorite authors, Chester B. Himes.  But honestly, besides that they were both African-American writers, I didn't see a lot of similarities.  Himes' Coffin Ed and Gravedigger Jones novels are philosophical, lyrical, sardonic mysteries; whereas Goines writes straight-up cold-blooded street prose.  King David rather casually cheats other dealers and secretly hooks women he wants to control on heroin, among other crimes big and small.

Goines writes in a tough-minded style, and the fact that his life (and death) often mirrored his novels has added interest in his work over the years.  I enjoyed Never Die Alone on its own merits, though it's not for the squeamish.

I snagged this rare treat from

Sunday, April 18, 2010

#18: Assignment Stella Marni by Edward S. Aarons

Spy Sam Durell decides to unofficially help a friend's brother, entangled with an ice-cold Hungarian beauty, and ends up himself mixed up in an Iron Curtain plot in Edward S. Aaron's Assignment Stella Marni.

I am rediscovering Aarons' long-running Assignment series with adult eyes and admiring their hard-nosed plots and tough prose. This one is a bit of a departure as Durell acts more like a private eye, tangling with a rogue FBI agent and falling under the spell of Stella Marni himself, even with loyal girlfriend Diedre close by.

This was one of the early entries, from the 1950s, and reflects the Cold War sensibilities of the time. Even so, Aarons manages to inject quite a bit of shading into all of his characters, good and evil.

One of my favorites thus far out of the stack I have been dipping into regularly, that I purchased in a mighty swath of Gold Medal paperbacks some time back. A good entry in the series.

Friday, April 16, 2010

#17: Murder Doll by Milton Ozaki

Chicago P.I. Carl Good looks for a cheating husband's mistress and ends up tangling with the mob in Milton Ozaki's potboiler Murder Doll.  Ozaki, notable as an early Japanese-American crime novelist, writes in a rat-a-tat style, featuring a typical gumshoe of that era who is quick with a gun and a quip. 

The story races along improbably--especially a sequence where Good is imprisoned at a nudist camp in northern Indiana--but is genial enough and surely enjoyable for fans of 50s pulp novels.  I wouldn't seek out Ozaki again, but I'm sure if I came across another of his novels I would enjoy it.

I bought this for beloved Kindle for only 99 cents and read a good chunk of it in one fell swoop.

Monday, April 12, 2010

#16: The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Allison Hoover Bartlett

Nonfiction exploration of book collecting, featuring curiously amoral book thief John Gilkey and the legion of rare book dealers that gathered to send him to jail.  Author Allison Hoover Bartlett inserts herself into the narrative, sometimes uncomfortably, as she gets involved with both sides of the story.

Voracious readers like myself will find interesting passages on the nature of collecting various things, and John Gilkey is a character really too strange for fiction.  Reading some of the interesting book anecdotes made me start thinking about used bookstores and garage sales a bit differently.  Overall, I enjoyed this look into a subculture I was only aware of in a tertiary way.

I listened to this on audio book on loan from the Morrison-Reeves Library in Richmond, Indiana.

#15: Odd Man Out by Matt McCarthy

At the start of baseball season, I picked up this raucous account of average baseball player and brief minor league pitcher Matt McCarthy, who writes about one roller-coaster season at the fringes of baseball with the Provo Angels.

McCarthy has plenty of raunchy and funny anecdotes, and played with a surprising number of future major-leaugers as well as a larger number of wash-outs (whose stories are as interesting).  Most baseball books talk about life in the spotlight, but this autobiography shines a light on an aspect not seen nearly as frequently.  In that way it reminded me favorably of Pat Conroy's My Losing Season.

A little googling shows that the accuracy of some of McCarthy's accounts have been called into question, but I liked his writing style and enjoyed the work overall.

I borrowed this book from Morrison-Reeves Library in Richmond, Indiana and read it at a good pace; now I'm ready to visit some ballparks.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

#14: Clans of the Alphane Moon by Philip K. Dick

A small moon used as a mental hospital is lost behind enemy lines during a galactic war; now Earth wants to reclaim it, only to find it has developed its own culture based on the different mental illnesses of those who were left behind.  A counselor, a CIA agent, a TV comedian, various robots, and a telepathic slime mold all converge there, for various reasons, in Philip Dick's trippy Clans of the Alphane Moon.

I've read a lot of Philip Dick in the last few years, and you have to admire him for never running out of ideas.  I thought this outing had more strange notions than most, as my brief description hardly scrapes the surface.  What I like about Dick's work is how he is able to take star-spanning stories and put them in the hands of everyday people; in this case, the counselor and the secret agent, whose marriage is crumbling, the details of which weigh as heavily in the storytelling as the planet-hopping spies and aliens.

A very free-wheeling and imaginative sci-fi story with grounding in the minutiae of daily life; one of my favorites of his books to date.  Recommended for fans.

I nabbed this one from

Friday, March 12, 2010

#13: Room to Swing by Ed Lacy

Down-on-his-luck New York P.I. Toussaint Moore does some low-level shadowing work for a big television network and ends up getting framed for murder in Ed Lacy's Room to Swing.

Room to Swing is a highly enjoyable pulp outing from the 50s and is notable on two counts; one, it features an early depiction of an African-American private eye, and second, the prolific Lacy won an Edgar for this work.

Moore is quick with the wisecracks and the knuckle sandwiches, as the genre dictates, but the story benefits greatly from its socio-politcal elements as Moore walks the mean streets of the big city and the rural countryside, dealing with various prejudices and hunting who framed him.

I stumbled across this novel for .99 for my beloved Kindle and snatched it up sight unseen, knowing nothing of its history. I enjoyed it immensely and will seek out more of Ed Lacy's writing.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

#12: Still River by Harry Hunsicker

Dallas P.I. Lee Oswald (no, a different one) hits the bad streets of the city to find out what happened to the missing younger brother of a high school friend in Harry Hunsicker's debut noir Still River.

Hunsicker writes a solidly plotted mystery as Oswald tangles with everyone from powerful real estate developers down to menacing street dealers, all hinging on a plot to land a future Olympics site in downtown Dallas. Oswald is an interesting enough detective character, with a more interesting supporting cast, neither adding not subtracting from the genre. Hunsicker gets points for trying to make Dallas a character in the story, the way Walter Mosley has with L.A. and Joseph Wambaugh did to some degree with New York.

I found this on a swap shelf at a retirement community while visiting my in-laws in Florida and read it over the course of a few days.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

#11: Hunter's Moon by Randy Wayne White

Marine biologist Doc Ford--sort of a cross between Indiana Jones and Doc from Steinbeck's Cannery Row--finds himself in the middle of an assassination attempt on a dying former President and gets drawn into political intrigue in Randy Wayne White's Hunter's Moon.

Doc Ford is the hero of a long-running series of thrillers that I honestly didn't know existed until I happened upon this paperback on a swap shelf in a retirement community in Florida. I took a chance on it because most of the action takes place within a stone's throw of where I happened to be, visiting my in-laws.

White writes in a straightforward style and features interesting characters and plotting. The story moved at a lightning pace, ending in a dramatic stand at the Panama Canal. I enjoyed it enough to consider reading more of White's work, after consuming this one in about two days poolside; but that might be the best place to read one of these.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

#10: The Star Ruby Contract by Philip Atlee

Nullifier Joe Gall goes back to Southeast Asia to settle a few scores in The Star Ruby Contract, part of Philip Atlee's swingin' spy series.

Gold Medal books of the 60s-70s can't be read with the same PC eye used on contemporary literature, but this outing for Joe Gall--with its treacherous Asians, traitorous hippies, and subservient women--might be even less palatable than some of the entries I have read in this long-running series.

But Atlee writes in a loose, funny style, with a seeming first-hand knowledge of place and politics of the time period. Atlee always offers memorable plotting and situations, including in this story a knowing nod to Ian Fleming's creation with a high-stakes poker game between the blue-collar Gall and a drunken priest in a jungle hut surrounded by nubile natives.

I enjoy the Joe Gall series and pick them up steadily. This one I bought in a big lot of pulp I nabbed off of ebay some time ago and have been working through as the mood hits me.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

#9: Dexter by Design by Jeff Lindsay

Cheery blood spatter expert for the Miami Police by day--and serial killer by night--Dexter Morgan finds himself in the middle of a string of murders that cross over from the art world to the center of Florida tourism in the fourth thriller from Jeff Lindsay, Dexter by Design.

Fans of the TV series might find the Dexter of the books a little more cold-hearted and the storytelling a bit more chilling, though the basic premise--a serial killer trained by his cop foster father to only kill bad guys--is more or less intact. But the TV series has veered away from the books, with significant changes in who lives or dies, and other plot points.

I felt the first two books in the series were pretty strong, but the third a strange misfire, moving from straight crime to a supernatural plot.

Thankfully, Dexter by Design ignores that aspect of the third book and returns to the thriller genre. Although for the first time I seemed to be able to out-think Dexter (and the plot could have used further tuning), I felt overall that this latest novel was an improvement over the last, though not as strong as the first two outings. I am sure I will continue to read the books (less avidly), and follow the television series (more closely).

I listened to a good audiobook version on loan from Morrison-Reeves Library in Richmond, Indiana.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

#8: Assignment Ankara by Edward S. Aarons

Spy Sam Durrell heads into earthquake-ravaged Turkey to check on a U.S. radar station, on the Turkish-Russian border, that has gone silent; he ends up in the company of a disparate band of survivors, all of whom are double and triple crossing each other. Their escape from Turkey by military plane is short-circuited by Russian fighters, and Durrell fights for his life on the unforgiving Black Sea.

Another sturdy spy thriller from Edward S. Aarons, part of an admirable series that Aarons wrote in the 50s-60s for the less admirable Gold Medal pulp line. Aarons pens a tight little thriller and features more nuance in characters and situations than you might expect to see. A good entry in the series.

I bought this in a big chunk of Aarons novels on ebay some time ago and have been chewing through them steadily.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

#7: Planet of Exile by Ursula K. LeGuin

Human colonists land on a remote planet, intending to learn whether the indigenous people can join the League of Worlds and fight an intergalactic menace; but the colonists lose contact with the League, and generations pass, with the colonists ending up facing a savage planetary threat instead.

Ursula LeGuin's Planet of Exile is the second in her loosely-connected series called The Hainish Cycle. It follows Rocannon's World, a robust high-fantasy/sci-fi mashup which I read and enjoyed recently. This novel shares many of the same themes as the colonists--branded witches by the local population--have to set aside their differences to band against shared enemies and relentless nature.

I am a big LeGuin fan and have been seeking out more of her work recently. I got this one from as part of a collection called Three Hainish Novels. I am sure I will read the third in this series, City of Illusions, before long.

Monday, February 8, 2010

#6: The Penultimate Truth by Philip K. Dick

In the far-flung future of 2010, the Earth has been devastated by nuclear war; below ground, humans continue to build robots to keep fighting on the surface, cheered on via video screen by the patriarchal leader Talbot Yancy. But Yancy is a robot, and the pleasant surface of the planet is now being held by a handful of clever marketing execs, in Philip K. Dick's post-apocalyptic outing The Penultimate Truth.

Longtime readers of this blog know I am a fan of Dick's trippy sci-fi; but though still worth reading, this ragged, raging story would probably be in my second tier of his work. Others fans of Philip K. Dick will find his usual interests in alternate histories, precognition, time travel, faceless corporations, belligerent robots and shrewish spouses all on display.

Dick never runs out of ideas, and The Penultimate Truth is no exception; though I don't think all of the details hang together quite as tightly as some other works. Good food for thought, as always.

I snagged this one off of and carried it with me everywhere until I finished it.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

#5: London Boulevard by Ken Bruen

Low-level thug fresh from jail lands a handyman job (of sorts) with a fading stage actress and her mysterious butler in Ken Bruen's London Boulevard.

Ken Bruen is a hard-boiled Irish crime writer whose novels about quasi-detective Jack Taylor I have enjoyed for a while; but they are so relentlessly cold-blooded I usually like to leave a little space between reading them.

In perhaps Bruen's only nod to whimsy (that I'm aware of), this stand-alone novel is based on one of my favorite films, Sunset Boulevard, recast for the hard-bitten underworld.

Strange as it sounds, it works, and allows Bruen to riff on other pop culture references from books, movies, and music, giving this noir a looser feel.

A good entry point to Ken Bruen and an enjoyable read overall. Recommended.

I checked this out from the Morrison-Reeves Library in Richmond, Indiana and read most of it in a single snowbound day.

Monday, January 25, 2010

#4: Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem

Frank Minna is a former minor criminal trying to become a major private eye in Jonathan Lethem's detective novel Motherless Brooklyn. But Lethem always bends genres and upends expectations, so Minna is dispatched in the early going, leaving his sidekick, an orphan suffering from Tourette's Syndrome, to find Minna's killer.

Very fine, offbeat novel from Lethem, paying homage to Raymond Chandler the way some of his other novels are nods to greats like Philip Dick (Gun, with Occasional Music), Steve Gerber (Fortress of Solitude), and so on. I enjoy how Lethem always writes a fully-realized worldview featuring Brooklyn past and present, which adds a lot to his work.

I am a big fan of Lethem and liked this novel about as well as I thought I would. Recommended.

I borrowed this book from my brother a long while ago, and is my weakness, took a long time to read it and return it.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

#3: Assignment Treason by Edward S. Aarons

Spy Sam Durell goes undercover to root out a traitor, though through the machinations of a fiery redhead (is there any other kind?) is branded a traitor himself in Edward S. Aarons' Assignment Treason.

I have found that Aarons' work is far above the usual Gold Medal pulp fare and reads even better upon rediscovery. I would compare him favorably to Donald Hamilton (and his Matt Helm novels) of roughly the same period; hard-nosed writing and surprisingly politically nuanced plots.

This one, written in the late 50s, features a red-baiting Texas senator in the Joe McCarthy vein with a skewed plan to nuke away detente before the U.S. gets too soft. The paperback sports one of those memorable Gold Medal covers, with Sam Durell fishing a nude woman out of the surf (which to their credit actually happens in the novel as an angry, obese naked woman attacks them both--you just have to read it). But the content inside is quite solid throughout.

I bought this in a giant ebay lot of Gold Medal books featuring Aarons and Philip Atlee and others and have been working my way through the enjoyable stack.

Monday, January 18, 2010

#2: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

In The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins introduces the reader to a dystopian future where teen "tributes" are forced to act out a televised gladiatorial combat for the enjoyment of the debauched capitol's citizens; in the end, one tribute's act of defiance makes her the inadvertent winner, and sets the stage for Catching Fire.

In the sequel, our reluctant hero is sent on a "Victory Tour" through the formerly rebellious districts, only to find that she is becoming the rallying point for a new rebellion. Behind the scenes, the machinery begins moving to pitch her back into the arena, even as forces begin to mass against the capitol.

Collins borrows a little bit from a lot of places from The Giver to Lord of the Flies and a half-dozen more, but it all goes by at such a brisk pace that it remains interesting. This outing spends a little more time developing a love triangle between the protagonist, a cerebral tribute, and a smoldering woodsman back home, for those interested in a little Twilight flair.

Despite bringing to mind other novels, it has enjoyments of its own, and I devoured it rather quickly.

I checked this out from the Farmland Public Library in Farmland, Indiana.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

#1: House Dick by E. Howard Hunt

The house detective in a big Washington hotel helps a damsel in distress and ends up in the middle of robbery, extortion, and murder in E. Howard Hunt's muscular noir House Dick.

I am a fan of the Hard Case Crime line, which brings back forgotten pulps with lurid new covers, the perfect place for this story of the lost world of house detectives, hat-check girls, newsies, and lunch counter short-order cooks.

In the stranger than fiction category, this one comes from the pen of E. Howard Hunt, Watergate conspirator and very competent and prolific genre writer (under a number of pseudonyms). I have picked him up wherever I come across him and have always found his writing solid.

I bought this one for my beloved Kindle and read it at a good pace.

Friday, January 1, 2010

2009 In Review

This was the second year in a row that I vowed to read 50 books in a single calendar year. Somehow I was able to squeeze in 52. In retrospect, I had several snowbound days and a handful of beach days that helped up the numbers a bit. I could have used a few more beach days and less snow days but all's well that ends well.

After swearing off at the end of 2008, I think I will go for a hat trick and try to read 50 books again in 2010. I am one of those people that have four or five books going at once and I don't see that slacking off any. I ended 2009 reading Assignment Treason by Edward S. Aarons, The Penultimate Truth by Philip K. Dick, House Dick by E. Howard Hunt, Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem and Tamar by Mal Peet (which hopefully will all give me a good head start on 2010).

In the meantime, here are my five favorite books that I read in 2009 and five honorable mentions. If I were to write this list again tomorrow, the top three would probably stay the same but everything else would undoubtedly be up for grabs.

Top Five Reads of 2009:

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson.

Lunar Park by Brett Easton Ellis.

The Murderer Vine by Shepard Rifkin.

Heart Shaped Box by Joe Hill.

An Evil Guest by Gene Wolfe.

Five more:

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami.

Babylon Babies by Maurice G. Dantec.

Citizen Vince by Jess Walter.

Missing by Karen Alvtegen.

Real World by Natsuo Kirino.

As always, happy reading.